Alarcón: The Writing Life

Daniel Alarcón contributes a piece to the Washington Post‘s occasional “Writing Life” series. I was particularly interested in this passage, which describes the fear many immigrant or expat or exiled writers experience when their books come out in their countries of birth:

In a few months, my first book of stories, War by Candlelight — published last year in the United States — will be published in Peru. I’ve been looking forward to the Spanish version anxiously. It’s not just a matter of worrying about how the translation will sound; it’s deeper than that. My incomplete knowledge of the place will be on display before critics who are least likely to be forgiving. To be panned by an American reviewer would probably have more of an impact on my career, but similar treatment at the hands of Peruvian critics might do more spiritual damage. I’ve taken what I know about a place, written it in English, and now those people depicted in the stories will have their say. Exoticism will not color their understanding of the work, and the stories will be read on their own merits. These readers will not be seduced by a pretty sentence or a well-observed detail: They will know instantly if the book is true or not, whether I have added something of substance to the discussion of Peru’s national trauma or have simply plagiarized our suffering.

You can read the entire essay here. Authenticity (and not emotional truth) continues to be the question of the moment for writers of color. See, for instance, reactions to the film adaptation of Monica Ali’s Brick Lane.